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In Memory of Jim Haynes: End of an Era, but not of a Philosophy of Life

January 12, 2021
bradspurgeon

Jim Haynes

Jim Haynes

PARIS – Not long into reading Jim Haynes’s autobiography, “Thanks For Coming!” in 1984, shortly after it was published, I said to myself, “I am certain I will meet this man.” I lived in Paris, as did he, I was interested in the expat literary and cultural world, and he was at the center of it, and my bookstore of choice was “The Village Voice,” on the rue Princesse, which it seemed impossible that he would not know. A meeting had to happen.

As it turned out, sitting in the back of that same bookstore, drinking a coffee and eating a brownie, and reading Jim Haynes’s book, who should walk in but Jim Haynes. With his big moustache, and slightly drawling accident, he was easy to recognize. I wasted no time in approaching him and telling him of the coincidence that there I was reading his book at that very moment and in he walks! So began a 37-year-long friendship that came to an end two days ago when Jim died at the age of 87. In fact, as anyone who knew Jim knows, it was not just Jim who left us, but a whole chunk of cultural life in Paris (and dare I add a cultural life of the 1960s and 70s in Britain too), and a living, walking, smiling philosophy of life.

Thinking about his life in the last few days since he left us on 6 January, it struck me that Jim was born in the same year that Hitler took power in Germany, and that he should die in a hospital in Paris at the same moment that the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. was being raided by violent haters, was very significant: Nothing could be further from Jim Haynes’s philosophy of life than the hatred that both Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump knew so well how to manipulate in their followers. Jim was all about love and togetherness and sharing; and if that sounds like some kind of 1960s hippie peace sort of dreamy approach to life, well, not only was it just that, but Jim successfully – and contagiously – lived by it right to the end.

I will not spend time on this blog post reiterating the events of his life. That has been well handled all over the place, including in this obituary about Jim Haynes published in The Guardian, or on Jim Haynes’s own web site. The only thing I feel I can bring that would serve any purpose beyond what everyone else – and he himself in that autobiography as well – would say, is my own experience of Jim. And I look forward to reading many more such accounts by the other legions of people from every walk of life who knew him.

Even so, in a nutshell: Born in the U.S., in Louisiana, after coming to Europe in the military, he decided to live in Scotland in the 1950s, where he created the first paperback bookstore, then helped found the now-famous Traverse theatre, before then moving to London where he founded the Arts Lab theatre space, and the International Times newspaper. He then came to Paris on a teaching assignment at the University of Paris, and stayed the rest of his life here, writing, holding Sunday dinner salons for more than 40 years, creating his publishing company, as well as many other manner of homegrown artistic thing.

Jim Haynes Autobiography

Jim Haynes Autobiography

Jim also, by the way, wanted to meet and know everyone in the world, and it was for that reason that I had no qualms about introducing myself to him in that bookshop. After that first meeting, we had many different kinds of meetings or communications over the years, never as close friends, but always as welcome friends. In the early years he would periodically call me up while I was working in the library of the International Herald Tribune – a newspaper that he read daily – in order to find some clip or other fact that he needed for whatever purpose. We would talk for a while, I’d find what he was looking for, and life went on.

I met him on occasion at the various book launches and small press nights at The Village Voice, at Shakespeare and Company or other meeting points during the period of the 1980s when it felt as if the literary expat world of Paris of the 1920s and 1930s or even the 1950s had returned. Several young expats from the English-speaking world decided to create their own literary magazines, and Jim, who had his own Handshake Editions at the time helped to encourage many of those young people with their literary magazines and actions. “Frank,” by David Applefield, was one of those, John Strand, who went on to have an excellent career as a playwright had another called “Paris Exiles,” and a woman named Carole Pratle had one called Sphinx. And, yes, Ted Joans, the famous beat poet was hanging around too. Jim had even helped advise AND occasionally work for Odile Hellier, the owner of that very same Village Voice bookstore where we met. (Applefield, by the way, who spent most of his life in Paris until he returned to the U.S. a couple of years ago, ran for Congress last summer, lost, and died suddenly the next day.)

One of the astounding things about Jim was just how many people he did indeed know. And the range of the kind of person they were. From the famous to the unknown, it didn’t matter who you were or what you did. He just liked people. But more important, even his act of knowing people was not something only for him: He loved to introduce people to each other, to make connections, to start relationships. One of his ventures was a global address book, comprising many of the people he met. And his famous Sunday dinners in Paris were always an occasion for Jim to introduce people to each other, and I mean in a really, outgoing, almost formal way: “Brad this is so and so; so and so, this is Brad.” That sense that we were all there to meet and share was one of the first signals you would receive upon entering the dinner.

On one of our early meetings at his home in the 1980s, I went because I learned he had some kind of recording studio at home and I wanted to record a couple of songs and a piece of prose writing I had done. I secretly hoped he would love it and use it in his then popular “Cassette Gazette,” a cassette tape collection of all kinds of writing and music and everything else you could put on tape. He showed no interest in the written piece, but he did sincerely and with some surprise in his voice, compliment my recording of the Raggle Taggle Gypsies song. At the time I was no longer playing music in public and had no ambitions to do so. So I was a bit pissed off he liked the song but not the writing!

That recording, by the way, was done by his longtime friend, Jack Henry Moore, who I knew nothing of at the time, but who I would eventually learn was also very much at the center of the underground of the 1960s. Jim wrote a Jack Henry Moore obituary for The Guardian when he died in 2014.

That, I believe in fact, was my first visit to Jim’s atelier at 83, rue de la Tombe Issoire, where one of his illustrious neighbours and friends was Samuel Beckett, by the way. Yes, Jim was friends with countless literary people, including Henry Miller, another one-time Paris expat, and he had a long running friendship with the book publisher, John Calder, with whom he founded the first Edinburgh international book festival. And to my delight and surprise, he had also corresponded with Colin Wilson, one of the original Angry Young Men of British literature, whom I would later meet, interview and befriend. I was delighted to be able eventually to give to Jim a copy of the interview book that I did with Colin Wilson. How strange the world is! (I recall now that I had also run into Jim at the Frankfurt Book Fair the one time I went there, which he attended regularly, and he introduced me to Calder.)

From a coffee and brownie meeting while reading his book, and him calling me up as a librarian at the IHT, soon he would be complimenting me on “writing half of the IHT newspaper,” or however he put it, while referring to all my regular Formula One writings and multiple-page special reports in that paper. He had treated me with the same respect as a support staff member of the IHT as when I became a regular journalist for the paper. Over the years we would meet in various circumstances, maybe at an organized play attendance followed by a dinner with a small group of people whom he had encouraged to see his friends’ play – or at a Sunday dinner at his atelier.

In another interesting Jim Haynes phenomenon, through the decades the number and kinds of people who I knew and who I learned also knew Jim Haynes grew and grew. They would, again, be from different countries around the world, and my relationship to them would vary completely, never being entirely to do with journalism or the arts, so vastly large was his relationship “footprint” around the world.

Jim Haynes and Varda Ducovny, with host Grace Teshima behind. Photo © Seamas McSwiney

Jim Haynes and Varda Ducovny, with host Grace Teshima behind.
Photo © Seamas McSwiney

One of our more recent meetings happened four or five years ago at a book launch of a friend of his, Varda Ducovny, in a home art space in Paris, in Montmartre. I had met Varda at one of the above mentioned dinners. At the end of the evening, he left a few minutes before I did, and as I descended the stairs of the building, I found Jim, sitting oddly on the bottom stair, with a couple of his friends either side. He had fallen and hurt himself; in fact, he had fallen before the start of the evening, and despite being in pain throughout, he stayed for the full launch and cocktail ceremony. By then in his early 80s, such a fall felt ominous. And as it turned out, it really was the beginning of a series of incidents that would remove from him his strong good health and easy mobility.

One of our last meetings I now see in a short recorded interview that I did with him for some research that Ornella was doing, was in January 2018. Three years ago. While he was 100 percent there mentally – and morally, ie, in his usual good spirits – I seriously worried about how many months he might last. That he lasted three more years is testament to his incredible inner strength, which I put down to that Jim Haynes optimistic, happy, loving and thankful philosophy of life.

Ornella found a key to that philosophy in the book he had given her that day three years ago, a copy of his book, “Everything Is!” She posted these words from the book on her Facebook page, and I agree with their profundity, so I finish this post with them too: “Some people say that when they are happy they sing and dance. But I say: when I sing and dance, I am happy!”

A Metaphor for Our Times at the Valdemone Festival in Pollina? The Clown Dog that Cannot Feed Himself

August 23, 2020
bradspurgeon

Paolo Locci Hobo

Paolo Locci Hobo

FINALE DI POLLINA, Sicily – The Hobo clown character goes back generations in the circus arts, with the most famous one being that of Emmett Kelly, whose hobo “Weary Willie” was a reflection of the tramps of the 1930s depression. We are now on the edge of an economic period that is being classified as potentially worse than that depression, but for circus performers and most other live entertainment artists, the period of Coronavirus has been even beyond the imaginings of the depression period. So it was that the show we saw last night in this extraordinary resort town on the north coast of Sicily was, as Ornella pointed out to the artist himself after the show, an extraordinary metaphor for our time.

The clown act was that of an Italian from Turin named Paolo Locci, which he calls “Hobo.” And while that name and Locci’s makeup and costume fall right in the Emmett Kelly tradition, this was an act with a twist: The clown was both the hobo and his dog; most importantly, throughout most of the act, the dog is trying to feed itself, but the food falls just short of his grasp. There’s the metaphor of the clown that today cannot feed himself – like most actors, circus performer, musicians and other live entertainers!

Asked after the show where he got the idea, Locci said he got it from his own dog. In fact, it was a beautifully executed and imaginative pole act from beginning to end in which Locci interweaves classic pole performance with the characters of the hobo and dog. Locci has trained at circus school in both Italy and France, and he performs around Europe.
Paolo Locci Hobo on the pole

I managed to get a little bit of it on video, but I as too far from the stage to get a good quality video. This can just give a small idea of what it as about. Making the video was also a bit difficult as we were seated on the ground level in front of the stage, not in the arena seats behind, so there were plenty of spectators’ heads in front of us.

But that is part of the theme too: The show took place during an annual festival for street theater, contemporary circus and music called Valdemone Festival that was founded in 2010, but which, this year due to Coronavirus was not supposed to take place at all. The organizers fought to keep it going and managed to set things going in record time.

Our seats were spread out according to social distancing laws, and there were not so many spectators as to make it dangerous proximity anywhere in the theater. Locci’s act was preceded by a music concert by a three-man band called Trio CasaMia – a small acoustic bass or viola, guitar and saxophone – that mostly entertained by telling long stories about the music they would then play, most of which had come from popular films and television series of the past.

Pollina and its built-in theater

Pollina and its built-in theater


Our only regret was that we did not get to see a show in the other theater of the festival, which is located up in the town above where the hobo show took place in a theater the likes of which I have never seen before as it is a kind of amphitheater built right into the city-scape of the town (if such a phrase is possible!). Pollina is an ancient town built on a hill (a little like Mont Saint Michel in France) that is a major tourist attraction in Sicily; but it was too dark for us to see it from the beach area where we saw the show.

It felt a little like we had driven 150 kilometers to get fed, but it was just outside our grasp…

Culture Under the Scorching Sun in the Wilds of Sicily: A Panel Session about Theater as a Social Tool

August 9, 2020
bradspurgeon

Emma Dante, left, and Ornella Bonventre at the panel discussion

Emma Dante, left, and Ornella Bonventre at the panel discussion

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – A discussion about the vicissitudes of modern theater and the theater as a social action, taking place under the scorching sun of Sicily amongst the trees and vegetation of the small Fraginesi artists’ retreat outside this town was the moment I had in mind when I earlier spoke of the TrinArt association while writing about the turtle event last week. The panel took place on Wednesday, and opened my eyes to yet another cultural aspect of life in Sicily.

Some of the spectators in the round at the panel

Some of the spectators in the round at the panel

I attended because Ornella Bonventre, representing TAC Teatro, was invited to speak on the panel, as she fit in perfectly as a director and actress who comes from Castellammare del Golfo originally – actually, she was born in nearby Erice – and now also has copious experience of theater also in Milan, Paris and elsewhere. The panel also featured the illustrious Emma Dante, who is based in nearby Palermo, but is also internationally known, having worked regularly in places as far apart as Paris, Edinburgh, the United States – where her play “The Sisters Macaluso,” was staged in 2017 – and many other places. Also on the panel were Laura Castelli, an actress from Milan, a couple of actresses from the Palermo-based company, Barba à Papa Teatro, and Maria Tesè, the deputy in charge of culture for the mayor of Castellammare del Golfo.

The event was attended by a healthy sized audience of perhaps 25 people – given the relatively remote location of the retreat – and among those in attendance was Nicola Rizzo, the mayor of Castellammare del Golfo.

Video: Ornella Bonventre talking about theater and society at the panel session in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily

 

How fabulous to find such cultural energy amongst the rugged, parched landscape, and to contrast it in the mind with the works these people normally do in theater spaces. TrinArt is an artistic association founded by Simona Nasta, a Sicilian artist, but which is not only about art but also about taking in and harbouring refugees and other people with social problems at the retreat.

il-teatro-come-relazione-sociale-trinart

il-teatro-come-relazione-sociale-trinart

Opening words of Ornella Bonventre's article on Rodari

Opening words of Ornella Bonventre’s article on Rodari

Perhaps that is where the social theme of the theater came into it. In any case, given the crisis that theater has been going through since the beginning of coronavirus, it was also not surprising that a lot of the discussion revolved around the problems that theater is facing today due to the virus. But there were also discussions about the general health of the modern theater itself, and what attracts people – or not – to the theater today.  Ornella gave an inspiring talk about how theater is and always has been a social tool, a tool for social transformation. I won’t go into the details of what she said, because I told her I thought she had the basis for her next article for publication. (Ornella’s latest article appeared a couple of weeks ago in the Italian education industry magazine called Pedagogika, and it is a wonderful piece about the popular writer and educator, Gianni Rodari, in a special issue of the magazine celebrating the centenary of his birth.)

In any case, it was a great pleasure to attend in this panel discussion, and I look forward to reporting about further such cultural activities from this summer in Sicily….

Oh, yes, and by the way, I heard the bad news at the event that it was likely the turtle eggs on the beach that we were trying to save will be wiped out by the rising tide of the Mediterranean itself.


 

 

A Year of Creation @ TAC Teatro, and the Incredible Synchronicity of the New Show

August 3, 2020
bradspurgeon

A scene from TAC's Latest show

A scene from TAC’s Latest show

Despite the lockdown, despite the Paris transport strike, despite the gilets jaunes, despite the mice we had at home for a while, and finally, despite the two-month-long illness that I had in January and February that was apparently NOT coronavirus, everything worked out fine in the extraordinary year of work that we all had at TAC Teatro, of which Ornella Bonventre is the director, and I and six others are actors. It culminated with a high moment at the beginning of June when we began to make a fabulous video of our show that we are hoping to complete soon.

Although Ornella created TAC Teatro several years ago and it had some success based in Milan, when she moved to in Paris in 2017, it was impossible for her to not transform the project into both an Italy- and France-based company.  But there was much work and preparation involved in rebuilding the company in her newly adopted location. After spending her first year in France shuttling back and forth regularly to Italy to operate TAC there while living in France and laying the foundation for the company in its second country, she finally settled down to working full-time building the company with new actors in France.

Marine Lefèvre and the old woman

Marine Lefèvre and the old woman

That began last fall in what proved to be difficult timing: starting with the gilets jaunes occupying the streets every Saturday (which did not really directly affect the project) and then the metro strike came in November and lasted for around two months – the longest ever such strike – and made the challenge of creating the company all the more difficult, as the actors had to come for their training, creation and rehearsal sessions three times per week by foot, car, bike or any other manner possible aside from metro from all around Paris.

We thought that would be the worst of it, when along came the Coronavirus and its lockdown. Still, the metro strike gave us all the fighting spirit and a sense of imagination so we were able to continue creating the show and training during the lockdown through three-times-per-week online video conferences.

When I say creating the show, here’s what I mean: Since last fall and the beginning of this new phase of TAC Teatro, the actors of the company used the method that Ornella specializes in for creating theater shows: The French call it écriture de plateau, and it entails the actors all together, along with the director, writing the show through body actions, personal texts, music, improvisation and an original idea that Ornella presented to us in the form of a story that was intended to fire up our imaginations and get our creative juices going.

Poster for Première Etape in October

Poster for Première Etape in October

We performed a first “work-in-progress” show of the piece in the small theater at the Theatre Armande Béjart in Asnières-sur-Seine in October, which we called, “Première Etape,” or first step, and it was well attended by the public. We were about to do the second stage of that in February, after we spent a week the whole company together working in residence in Italy in Emilia Romagna. But, yes, the day we were supposed to put on this second show for the public, France declared that anyone who had been in Emilia Romagna in the previous 14 days had to go into quarantine, as it was the epicentre of the then “young” coronavirus in Europe. So we had to cancel the show. Fortunately, however, none of us got sick of the virus.

Then came the Paris lockdown a couple of weeks later. We continued working online, but we had to cancel the premiere of what was going to be the completed show, which we had scheduled to perform in Asnières in late May.

Still, the story had a happy ending when in early June the mayor’s office of Asnières donated to us the big stage of the Armande Béjart Theatre, as well as the city’s technical crew, to film the piece. It was a gesture to help out the creative sector, so badly hit by Covid.

Now I want to talk very briefly about the extraordinary synchronicity in the creation of this show, which for the moment we are calling “Terminus,” but which might change its name before it is staged. There was an amazing foreshadowing of subsequent world events reflected in this creation that we did not do on purpose, but that somehow came about of its own accord. In brief, the piece is about a group of immigrants who come from various parts of the world to a land where they hope to make a new life. They are, in fact, badly treated by the locals, and even duped by the military, and their world begins to fall apart; just as had their own countries before their emigration.

During creation in Italy as the Constructeurs de Reves

During creation in Italy as the Constructeurs de Reves

Working behind them, invisible and unknown to them, however, are the “constructeurs de rêves,” or the dream creators, who try to help them. The dream creators are dressed in white doctors’ coats and work in another layer of reality to try to change the course of human actions.

When the coronavirus came along, the show took on another sense to us, as we could not believe the way our futures – the future of the whole world – had fallen into the hands of doctors in white coats, and for everyone on earth almost without exception, their world had fallen apart.

Janice Zadrozynski in character for the TAC show

Janice Zadrozynski in character for the TAC show

I have often found while writing creatively that such strange synchronicities with real life do indeed happen. And now that we have almost completed the show, we hope that the constructors of dreams will allow the world to get back to some state of normalcy in the coming year so that we can finally perform it in public. I will keep you posted on this blog as to what happens.

The company consists of Ornella directing and the following actors acting, performing, playing music, and writing the show all of us together: Julie Lossec, Janice Zadrozynski, Marina Meinero, Pacôme Puech, Marine Lefèvre and Sara Baudry. You can find all of our bios through the TAC Teatro “About us” menu.

And, by the way, I have only spoken about our new show here, but we also performed in public this last winter doing a street action to commemorate the day against violence to women, for which we also created quite a complex flash mob performance, and we ran an online open stage for all kinds of performances throughout most of the lockdown . So it was, in the end, a productive season for TAC Teatro, despite all the elements and human nature itself seemingly fighting against us.

The Unique Vision of Peter Brook and Shakespeare’s Tempest Work-in-Progress at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris

February 23, 2020
bradspurgeon

Peter Brook and his actors in a huddle after the show  Photo:  ©Brad Spurgeon

Peter Brook and his actors in a huddle after the show Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

PARIS – It took me decades, but I have finally attended a Peter Brook night at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. On Friday, I went to the last day of a three-day run of a work-in-progress by Brook and a handful of actors, at the theater that he has occupied since 1974, although he ceased running the place in 2008. Brook will turn 95 next month, so perhaps it was significant that the work-in-question was “The Tempest,” considered one of Shakespeare’s last plays, and one that is full of commentary on the very art of drama itself that both Shakespeare and Brook devoted themselves to. And what a pleasure and spellbinding moment it was to see and hear Brook himself.

The Bouffes du Nord was opened as a theater in the 1870s, and had a long history of trying to find its raison d’être, until Peter Brook took over the place and made it the seat of his International Centre for Theatre Research, which he founded in 1970, along with Micheline Rozan. Just sitting in and exploring the theater itself is a great experience – I had been only once before, for a Rickie Lee Jones concert – as it was refurbished by Brook years ago, but not redecorated. So the walls, seats, stage area, everything has a feeling of being lost and left in time to rot. (You can get a small taste of it from an opera scene in the 1980s film “Diva.”)

Peter Brook Sitting at the Bouffes du Nord Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

Peter Brook Sitting at the Bouffes du Nord Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

The show was called “Shakespeare Resonance,” and consisted of a demonstration by a handful of actors of “research” that they had done on “The Tempest” over the last couple of weeks, under the impetus of Brook and his collaborating director, Marie-Hélène Estienne. Ultimately, it was about 1 hour and 10 or 20 minutes of excerpts of The Tempest woven together to make a play. I’ll get into that part of the evening in a moment, but for me the thrilling part of the evening was to see and hear Brook talk about the work before the show.

He came to the stage along with all the actors before the demonstration of work, and he was seated in a chair, with his actors at his side, and he took a microphone and spoke to the audience about his vision of the theater, and this work itself. Notably, he spoke of the resonances between the actors on stage and the public watching a show. And he immediately asked one of the actors – Marcello Magni – to involve the audience in one of the exercises that Brook caught him doing backstage to warm up the other actors. It was about finding those resonances with our hands and whole body.

Bouffes before the Brook show  Photo:  ©Brad Spurgeon

Bouffes before the Brook show Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

Ornella and I arrived about 20 minutes before the show was set to begin at 19:00 and already by then we had a highly reduced choice of seats to sit in, having to settle for the first floor balcony. It turned out to be a great place to sit as we had a full view of the stage area, but most importantly, our seats were very close to the loudspeaker that projected Brook’s somewhat weakened voice through the mic.

Other than that, Brook was wonderfully in possession of all of his intellectual brilliance and passion for the theater, clearly. So it was the treat of a lifetime to have finally gone and witnessed this moment of a colossus of world theater.

As to his – and Estienne’s – directing what was most extraordinary was the choice of the actors and the reasons behind that choice; and, of course, the stage actions were captivating throughout – especially the use of some basic props, such as the filthy, heavy-looking carpet that Caliban rolled himself up in.

Magni, who comes from Bergamo, in Italy, but has lived and worked in Britain for 40 years, played Ariel, and was clearly the doyen of the actors. I never pictured Ariel as a grey-haired man of something like my age! But, of course, it worked well, as Magni brought the character to life and the poetry did its work. The other actors included Hiran Abeysekera, playing both Caliban and Ferdinand, Maïa Jemmett, playing Miranda, and Ery Nzaramba as Prospero, and Kalieaswari Srinivasan of India.

What was really wonderful to behold was the huge disparity of origins of the actors. Prospero, or Nzaramba, is of black-African origin, although he has grown up in British theater, training in Birmingham, and having worked with Brook before. The delightful Abeysekara is from Sri Lanka, and after winning praises in his own country went to Britain and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and has worked extensively in British theater.

Brook actors taking a bow  Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

Brook actors taking a bow Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

His were among the most fun performances to watch, especially when he rapidly climbed up a supporting pillar – or pipe – that runs up the side of the base of the proscenium arch, giving a different level to the stage area. We saw him briefly after the show and Ornella asked if that moment had been planned from the beginning or something that was incorporated into the piece through improvisation. He said that he had climbed up the pole once outside the creation and Estienne asked him to do it as part of the show.

Maïa Jemmett, who played Miranda, is only 17, but she has already played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre National de Nice, where her mother, Irina Brook, the daughter of Peter Brook, was the director until last year from 2013. Maïa’s father is Dan Jemmett, also a British theater director based in France … and his parents were both actors as well.

But this very aspect of a wide variety of nationalities among the actors was precisely at the center of Brook’s relationship with The Tempest. The first time he had directed it was in a Stratford production, and he was disappointed with it. The problem for him, was that he found that working with actors of the western temperament and background was limiting for a play in which there is a magic, spiritual, ritual side.

So in his next production, in Paris in 1968, he used actors from around the world.

“I found it interesting to take scenes from the play as a base and to see how we could rediscover it together,” he writes in French in a simple program for the show last week, that I translate here. “The result went beyond our expectations.”

“In Shakespeare’s era, in the Elizabethan world, the links with the natural world had not yet been broken, ad ancient beliefs were still present and the sense of marvels was very much alive,” he says. “Western actors have all that is needed to explore in the works of Shakespeare that which concerns anger, power, sexuality and introspection. But when it comes to touching the world of the invisible, things become difficult and everything gets blocked up. In so-called “traditional” cultures the images of the gods, of witchcraft, are natural.”

This is clearly the approach he took again, and I left the evening feeling as if I HAD seen “The Tempest” with another eye.

TAC Teatro’s Paris Flash Mob and Performance for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

December 4, 2019
bradspurgeon

TAC Teatro in Les Chaussettes Rouges

TAC Teatro in Les Chaussettes Rouges

We took a short break from the creation of our work-in-progress at TAC Teatro in order to put together and perform a commemoration for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Originally intending to put on the flash mob and short performance in Asnières-sur-Seine, where the company rehearses, we had a last minute change of plan and did it all in Paris. So it was that putting on this performance we called “Les Chaussettes Rouges” (The Red Socks) was pure delight.

In the middle of a few weeks of desperately cold, rainy, horrible weather, our target date of 24 November, the day before the official date of the United Nations commemoration, we ended up with sun all over town. It could not have been a more beautiful day, and so it allowed us to use several different locations for the flash mob, and another location for the performance, as we spread the names of women victims of violence across the city where the day before there had been a demonstration of 45,000 people in support of the same cause.

As you can see in the above video that we made of the day, we started by rehearsing what we planned in a small, quiet backstreet of the Place de Clichy. Then we put on the first flash mob at the beginning of the Boulevard de Clichy. After that, we walked to the Place des Abbesses, in Montmartre, where we did the second flash mob.

We performed a third flash mob at Stalingrad, in the big place by the canal, and we did the performance in the park of Belleville in a kind of modern take on an ancient amphitheater. Present were all of the actors of TAC Teatro and a couple of the students from TAC’s acting school.

It was quite an emotional, but also liberating, day, as we moved through the city as a group and performed for a surprised public, looking and pointing to the sky for the victims of domestic violence. The flash mob and performance was something we all wove together in a few days preceding the event – with lots of thought having gone into it in the month before, week to week, as we continued to prepare our show.

It was, as Ornella Bonventre, the director of TAC Teatro said, the preparation for the event that was as much an act of contributing towards this cause as was the actual performance.

Now back to work on the show!

TAC Teatro Demonstration of the Work-in-Progress at the Petit Théâtre in Asnières

November 4, 2019
bradspurgeon

TAC Teatro company takes a bow

TAC Teatro company takes a bow

We had a fabulous two weeks at TAC Teatro working daily on our next show, and then crowning the work period with a demonstration of the creative process to spectators at the Petit Théâtre in Asnières-sur-Seine. There we interspersed our personal work on the next show with explanations of how we went through the creative process to come up with the scores. The whole was led, of course, by Ornella Bonventre, the director of TAC Teatro, who was also the one behind leading us towards our individual creations.

It’s a process of work that I began wondering if I would ever come out of it with anything at all. But on the very first day, with the instructions Ornella gave us, I began to create my character and his place in the show. Can there be any surprise that the character comes from a circus background and so did some juggling, tight-rope walking and…reading of the beginning of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”?

Brad Spurgeon at TAC Teatro work demonstration

Brad Spurgeon at TAC Teatro work demonstration

If you don’t understand a word of what I just explained there, well, you will have to come to the show when it is finished later next year. The other members of the company to perform in the work demonstration – who worked in the same manner as I just explained, but who came up with many different kinds of characters and scores – were Sara Baudry, Ioana Jarda, Marine Lefèvre, Julie Lossec, Marina Meinero, Pacôme Puech, and Janice Zadrozynski.

Marina was the only one not physically present, as she had a commitment in Italy. But she sent a video of her work, which I place below.

Ornella Bonventre speaking to the spectators during the TAC Teatro work demonstration

Ornella Bonventre speaking to the spectators during the TAC Teatro work demonstration

Keep posted for the next steps of the work-in-progress.

A New Tack With TAC Teatro – or Should it Be Called a New TACtic?

September 23, 2019
bradspurgeon

TAC Teatro

TAC Teatro

Why have I done so few posts on this blog in recent months? Let’s call it a TACtic. I have mentioned TAC Teatro a few times on this blog in the past three years, and especially my activities with TAC. But as of this summer, I have been devoting a lot more time to TAC, and am now a full member of the troupe. This is part of a decision to transform all my open mic experiences into something different, and, hopefully, bigger.

When I say bigger, I mean above all in terms of range of use of the body, voice, performance. I continue to play guitar and write every day – in fact, I am working on a very big writing project that I will finish at the end of the year – but I got to the point with the open mics that it felt as if I was repeating myself. Since stopping my travel to the Formula One races at the end of 2016, I had pretty much only Paris as my stage. And as big and beautiful and great is that stage, playing the same open mics with the same songs for the same spectators began to wear on me.

But my love of performing and my need to create are as strong as ever and always. Now, invited by Ornella Bonventre, the director of TAC Teatro, to involve myself even more than before – that is to say, with at least three meetings with the newly formed Paris troupe per week — I have found what feels like the answer to the stagnation at the open mics.



Of course, I am also continuing several other projects, such as the completing of my open mic documentary and the completing of my open mic memoir. But as far as performing goes, the idea is to build as much as possible on the physical theater of TAC Teatro. This is a kind of theater that appeals to me as it involves voice, music, physical action, acrobatics, puppetry, juggling, unicycling, text and just about every other thing you can imagine all wrapped into one.

Among its great proponents are groups like Odin Teatret of Denmark – I am also finishing the editing of a video interview with the founder of that theater, Eugenio Barba, that I conducted along with Ornella – and even the Théâtre du Soleil of Paris, and many others. TAC Teatro has existed for many years in Italy, and Ornella started up the Paris part two years ago. This year is the biggest step so far, with the recent gathering of several new performers – and you could say I am part of that wave.



In the first week of September five of us, under Ornella’s direction, put together a performance on the theme of borders, or “Frontières” that we performed on an outdoor stage at the city hall of Asnières-sur-Seine, where the French TAC is legally based in France. I am putting up on this blog page two videos connected to that event, one of which is a short video of the performance that Luca Papini, an Italian filmmaker in Paris, made.

The other video is of my own specific contribution to the writing of the performance, that did not make it into Luca’s film. All the performers created the first seeds of their own scenes, which we all then worked on together under Ornella’s directing, and so I was pleased to learn that Ornella had found in the filmed bits of our rehearsals and moments of creation, that there was a good, complete filming of my scene. (The exercise of filming the rehearsals was in order for the performers to have a more objective view of their work.) Ornella just finished preparing that segment as a video, which I post above.

TAC Rehearsal with music

TAC Rehearsal with music


We all used our personal preoccupations of the moment to create these seeds of our scenes, which were all also somehow connected to the theme of borders. My own section, called “Le Passeport,” as you will see, has to do with my personal battle with the concept of Brexit, which is affecting me to the point of madness as I wonder at how long I will be considered a legal citizen in France, as opposed to an illegal alien…. And I emphasize that word ALIEN.

So to sum up, again, my lack of presence on the blog in recent months has had nothing to do with an end to my creative projects, but rather, a reduction in the approach of the past – focusing almost entirely on open mics – and the beginning of a new approach, combining all of my interests, including playing music. I hope now I can shake myself out of the lack of contributions to the blog and back into a cycle of regular updates, but on a bigger theme!

Transylvania Travel Diary – of Gypsies, Vampires and the Beginnings of a Fabrique

July 9, 2019
bradspurgeon

Garlic in Transylvanian wood shed Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

Garlic in Transylvanian woodshed. Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

TALMACIU, Romania

Tuesday, 2 July:

2:30 AM: Arrived in Cluj-Napoca, the capital of Transylvania. Expected at least one vampire sighting, saw none.

10:30 AM:  Awoke, went to pharmacy for eye infection that looked like vampire bite. At pharmacy, pleasant Romanian able to speak English sold me magic garlic bullet – also contained cortisone and antibiotic – mercifully given me despite it requiring a doctor’s prescription.

11:00 AM:  Went to fruit market to buy lemons, spinach and cloves of garlic.

1:00 PM:  Returned to apartment to work all afternoon on various writing projects, along with Ornella, who is writing an article for an Italian magazine (not about vampires).

7:00 PM: After eating local food made by mother of our host – chicken soup for the soul made from her very own chicken (not killed by a vampire) -, took a walk around Cluj after several applications of garlic gel on eye infection.  Saw many different quarters of university town, from typical public places with bars spilling out under awning-covered tables onto the sidewalks to rapidly flowing, violent river at edge of town to canal that looked like a perfect setting for Dracula to make an attack and lure is into unknown territory. Noticed scary looking metal spike on side of the bridge where Ornella and I both looked at each other and think about Vlad the Impaler.

Saw national theater with Hungarian words in name; national opera; another national theater; a few cool bars reminiscent of Budapest kerts (or beer gardens); noticed barbed wire and old communist era signs in several places.

8:30 PM:  Went out for a glass of wine and chocolate brownie at Charlie’s, a bar with the image of Charlie Chaplin.  First had a local white, then had a local red.  Thought I saw vampire and accidentally spilled Ornella’s wine all over her with overly abrupt hand and arm movement.  Fortunately was the white wine or vampire might have mistaken it for blood.

Found whole city to look like Budapest 20 years ago when first went to that East European country.  Expressed surprise to host on seeing no Roma, or Gypsies, anywhere as I see them on a daily basis in Paris.  Host laughed at me, as she had at every mention of vampires or Dracula.

Wednesday:

10:37 AM:  Woke up after bad night sleep and early morning storm worthy of a vampire (learned later that hail stones the size of golf balls fell on the location of our home for the next week and a half, in Talmaciu). Prepare to go to Talmaciu, to factory that is to be our home for next week and a half.

12:30 PM:  Met at the airport by driver of the Fabrique RE-Évolution / FREE / France Roumanie Europe Ensemble – who is in fact not a driver but is the lighting man for the Fabrique.  Drive for three hours plus lunch break to Talmaciu and the Fabrique RE-Évolution / FREE / France Roumanie Europe Ensemble.

4:30 PM:  Arrive at Fabrique RE-Évolution / FREE / France Roumanie Europe Ensemble to find no gypsies.  Look on Wikipedia and find that population of Talmaciu is only just over 3 percent gypsy.  Find no vampires either. Despite certain parts of factory looking like good homes for vampires (or Roma, or Gypsies).

7:00 PM:  Attend first conference at fabrique, featuring former minister of culture for Romania, and former boss of the Romanian Culture Center in NYC, and former a lot of things.  Learn much about what it was to live under communism.  Learn even more about what it is to have lived under communism and then in 1989 to face freedom.  Hear no word about vampires – except in form of former communist padres – and nothing about Roma, or Gypsies.

12:30 AM:  Begin to jam in dining area of Fabrique RE-Évolution / FREE / France Roumanie Europe Ensemble with musicians.  Have time of life playing music and watching two musicians clown around with the music.

2:00 AM:  Go to bed, closing windows at first tight against vampires, then opening windows but put mosquito repellent against vampires.  (And copious mosquitoes present.)

Thursday:

11:00 AM:  Awake in sunlight, having survived no vampire attack.

2:00 PM:  Take bus to Sibiu, local big town, capital of the county.  Find typical architecture of the region, mix of Romanian, Hungarian and German styles.  Tried to meet Rocco, man of more than 250 guitar collection. Rocco answers phone, says he is many kilometres away in another town. Leaves me with no guitar – because Wizzair wanted me to pay for an extra seat for my guitar, so I did not take it.  (Devise inspirational, brilliant, advertising campaign for Wizzair (also known as Wizz):  “Next time you go on vacation, take a wizz!”)

Transylvania Flower Shop in Sibiu Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

Transylvania Flower Shop in Sibiu Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

3:00 PM:   Find one of two music stores in Sibiu, go there and ask to try cheapest guitar that exists.  Play Emerald green “Flame” guitar costing 60 euros.  Find it more than serviceable, not bad at all. Buy guitar, strap and Fender strings for total of 74 euros.  In store meet elderly, white-haired man with strong accent in English, says he is from Denmark but lives in Sibiu.  Has guitar on back.  After leaving store, elderly man approaches again in street.  Says he owns 250 guitars.  Ask him if he knows Rocco. Says yes, adds, “Rocco has 2,500 guitars.”  Danish man tells me he himself gives guitars away; makes me think 74 euros was thrown in waste.

3:30 PM:  Look for second music store in Sibiu for small percussion instruments for Ornella’s workshop, meet up with strange Danish man again.  Says he knows all of the music bars and music restaurants in the city. Suggests I busk in street to earn back 74 euros.  Ask him if he knows the other music store in Sibiu, show him on map, he does not.  But knows others.

4:00 PM:  Eat lunch at restaurant in outdoor awning-covered terrace on main square.  Wait half an hour for food despite no other clients present – or practically none.   Eat quickly, find second music store in Sibiu and second cheapo guitar of same price as new Flame.  Second guitar piece of garbage – despite visually better.  Find percussion instruments for Ornella’s workshop – a tambourine-like drum but without the symbols, and also a tambourine-like loop with the symbols but without the drum skin … leads me to think second music store in Sibiu is trying to make us pay twice as much for same effect in two pieces as if we had just a classic tambourine.

Goanna Lizards at FREE Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

Goanna Lizards at FREE Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

5:30 PM:  Go to main bus and train station of Sibiu to catch bus back to Talmaciu as instructed by host.  Learn at main bus and train station of Sibiu that there are no more buses back to Talmaciu.  Young man approaches – later tells me he saw me playing guitar and singing to locals on the parking lot of bus and train station of Sibiu – speaks in perfect Australian English offering a ride somewhere as we appear in distress.  We tell him we are going to Talmaciu and he says he is passing by that way exactly and offers us a ride.  In his van I learn he is son of a Baptist missionary in Romania.  My family has long line of Baptist missionaries in India, and is directly linked to a famous Baptist preacher named C.H. Spurgeon.  He knows my name and is surprised.  Nice coincidence.

7:00 PM:  Listen to conference on Hamlet at Fabrique given by an American English professor.  Speak to the professor and find he lived in the same building as two of my former newspaper colleagues in Paris.  Nice coincidence.  No sighting of Roma, or Gypsies, but suspect man who directs factory is Roma, or Gypsy, as he brought to conference most interested and interesting spectators:  Two Goanna “monitor” lizards from Australia.  (See photo.)  Goannas listening to Hamlet, Cioran and Pessoa.

00:00 PM:  Meet clown musician of night before going to another jam and offers us to join.  I say, “No,” too much work at conference next day.

Friday:

8:15 AM:  Awake in Romanofir factory in Talmaciu, site of FREE.  Feel fine, despite rooster crowing for 1 hour and sun flowing in window with no curtains.

Brad and Ornella in front of FREE event diary

Brad and Ornella in front of FREE event diary


9:00 AM:  Start workshop – more or less – in incredible old theatre in factory.   Theatre built as cinema, but with huge stage, lights, red seats for hundreds.  Rundown after years without use.   Building full of nooks and crannies and perfect place for Vampires or Roma, or Gypsies.  No sightings, however, except maybe in projection room a reel of Dracula films. (Just joking.)

6:00 PM:  Workshop ends.  Shower, drink beer, seek dinner.

8:30 PM:  Join members of workshop at their tents, play “Mad World” with Flame guitar.  Informed halfway through song that sheep and goats in adjacent field run around like mad over music.  Approach the animals, but only the three horned leaders come to check me out – and fend me off – as sheep hide in field behind.  No sightings of vampires. Or Roma, or Gypsies.  Continue to play music and listen to workshop participants play music with my new Flame – very good singer and player present among them.  Makes me want to quit.  (Well, ok, no, but you get the idea.)

Projectors at Romanofir Factory cinema and theater

Projectors at Romanofir Factory cinema and theater

10:00 PM:  Attend concert of man playing flutes and cornemeuse and Lo Schuh, organizer of Fabrique singing and chanting and reciting to the music.  No sighting of gypsies or vampires, but shadow of Lo Schuh from spotlight on wall of building next-door looking like Dracula, as Lo Schuh wears exotic Dracula-like clothing.

10:30 PM:  Return to campsite, start thinking about vampires and Roma, or Gypsies in moon-flooded night. Romanians at campsite, participants in workshop, talk about how world outside has preconceptions of Romania, especially Transylvania, as land of Vampires and Roma, or Gypsies.  Leap from my chair now aware they are aware of this stereotyping.  Also learn that minority of Roma, or Gypsies badly treated by majority of Romanians.  So Roma, or Gypsies in their mind same as in our mind in the West.

00:00 PM:  Go to bed thinking how stupid I am to reduce Romania to Vampires and Roma, or Gypsies. Then remember moment on the way to listen to Lo Schuh when what seemed like a Vampire bat flew past my head and head of Romanian host.  Host agreed it must have been vampire bat.  Fall asleep anyway, no problems.

Saturday:

8:15 AM:  Awake. Feel fine, despite rooster crowing for 1 hour at least and sun flowing in window with no curtains.  No vampire bats. No Roma, or Gypsies.  Forget all troubles.  Do workshop, day ends well.  Feel liberated to no longer have preconceptions about Roma, or Gypsies and Vampires in Romania.  Have discovered amazing country, like so many in so many ways of those visited elsewhere in the world.  Always people.  Just people.  Not Roma, or Gypsies, no vampires.

More to come in coming days, including explanation of discovery of cloves of garlic in Romanian woodshed pictured in first photo of diary … too busy to keep up beyond Saturday, but new week to deliver new adventures….

Exiting Talmaciu, but not really

Exiting Talmaciu, but not really

 

 

The 27th Hour: Women’s Rights with TAC Teatro and others, in front of the Pompidou Center in Paris

May 11, 2019
bradspurgeon

Playing to the 27th Hour at the Pompidou – Photo: © Morgana Stabile

PARIS – Performing in front of the Pompidou Center last Sunday afternoon, I had my first taste of dancing in a choreography.  I feel often like the world’s worst dancer, and although music is at the center of my life, I hate dancing.  I love to watch fine dancers, I just feel that I cannot do it.  But the choreography on Sunday was in the form mostly of a kind of boxing movement, and we were in a big enough group that I felt I could fade into the mass and not be seen!  So why did I do such a thing in front of the famous Pompidou Center – and in front of several cameras filming it?

Simple:  I, like the other 14 or 15 people who took part in the performance – called “La 27ème heure” – was invited by Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro, with which I have performed occasionally over the last couple of years.  Most importantly:  The event was designed to fight violence against women.  Another detail for why I participated was that in addition to the dance, I was told I could sing a song and play my guitar. So that gave me the inspiration to try the rest….

https://ellepi.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/5/27-me-heure

So it was that the 15 or so artists, musicians, dancers, actors, had been rehearsing for several weeks to put together this street action in defence of women’s rights.   Although it came months after the usual day of women’s rights, TAC Teatro, which is new in France after several years of success in Italy, has since 2011 put on events annually in support of women’s rights in the streets in Milan, and Ornella was keen to continue this TAC tradition in France, with no need to fit any particular anniversary date.

For this, she put together this team of performers not only from her own group of artists who take part in her TAC Teatro high-level Monday morning actors’ training sessions, but also joined forces with the prestigious ARTA (Association de Recherche des Traditions de l’Acteur) based at the Cartoucherie in Paris, part of the Théâtre du Soleil group.

Choreography of the 27th Hour at the Pompidou – Photo: © Morgana Stabile

And so commenced several weeks of artistic creation for the Pompidou performance. Very early on the street action transformed from the kind of spectator participation event that TAC usually does into a performance in which the spectators were just that – invited to enter mentally into the performance, if not physically or vocally – and based on a choreography directed by Philippe Ducou, of ARTA. Ornella and the other artists proposed texts related to women’s rights.  

In addition to her experience in performing street actions for women’s rights at TAC Teatro, Ornella also has frequently staged the “Vagina Monologues” of the author Eve Ensler, in Italy, in Italian.  So several of the spoken texts came from excerpts of the “Vagina Monologues,” and were performed in several languages – French, English, Romanian, Vietnamese.

Ornella gave the event the name “La 27ème heure,” or “The 27th hour,” after an Italian study that showed that women have days that consisted of 26 hours – to take care of their jobs, their homes, their children, their husbands, etc. – where men need only 24 hours. The 27th hour is the hour that the women should have to be free and do as they please, to escape from their burden however they wish.

More choreography of the 27th Hour – Photo: © Morgana Stabile

In the end, we put on a 35-40 minute performance, ending with my singing of the 4 Non Blondes song “What’s Up!” as I circled the dancers and finally incited both the artists and the spectators to sing along.  Luca Papini, a Paris-based teacher, photographer and filmmaker – invited to the event by Ornella – made a 5-minute film of the performance and put it on his blog. It’s a fabulous tribute, and paints a beautiful picture of the event, so I am sharing the link to his blog item with the video.

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